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Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017 12:17 am

We need a capital bill, but don’t hold your breath

PHOTO BY ALAN SOLOMON/TNS
The four leaders met last week, but didn’t appear to accomplish much of anything.

It was Sen. Bill Brady’s first leaders’ meeting since his chamber officially confirmed him as the Senate Republican Leader, and he was the one who called for the sit-down. Leader Brady ran for governor three times, winning the 2010 primary. Numerous associates say he wants to make the most of this new role and be as relevant as he possibly can.

Brady helped restart the Senate’s stalled “grand bargain” talks in early May by outlining a “five for five” plan that raised $5 billion in new revenues alongside $5 billion in cuts. That proposal was widely believed to have been drafted by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office and foreshadowed his subsequent election as leader.

A startling 18 of Brady’s 22 Republican members are up for reelection next year, so Brady needs to maintain a close relationship with the wealthy governor to hold off primary opponents and fund general election races.

There’s also a very real and growing worry that Gov. Rauner will be a significant drag on down-ballot Republican candidates next year, adding to the problems the party may very well also have with a national backlash against Republican President Donald Trump. The fact that no Republicans have yet emerged to run for three statewide offices (secretary of state, comptroller and treasurer) should tell you something.

So, Brady reportedly wants to do whatever he can to help the governor help himself and, by extension, help his caucus. And a plan for state construction projects would most definitely be a big help.

Brady has an idea in mind. But one person who was briefed last week said it wasn’t so much a plan as “A magical mystery tour looking for someone to love it.”

Several sources say it’s a “public-private partnership” (PPP) proposal, meaning the state would seek out investors to help hold down government costs and dampen the need for a big tax hike to pay for it. Gov. Rauner said last week that he opposed raising the gas tax to fund a capital bill.

The House Speaker didn’t warm to Rauner’s last PPP idea for a toll lane on Interstate 55. The House Democrats complained that Rauner’s office should’ve just handed the proposal over to the tollway board, which already has the legal authority to do such things and is, they pointed out, required to get first crack at projects involving tolls anyway. There was also the usual suspicion about which investors would benefit from such a deal.

Beyond the Democrats not wanting to give the Republican governor a “win” by allowing him to announce sweet projects during a crucial election year, there are still some important remaining questions.

Also, despite the recent agreement on school funding reform, there still isn’t much trust at the top.

So some Democrats wonder whether Brady and Rauner are floating this idea in order to ultimately blame Democrats for not going along with them after the GOP moves the goal posts a dozen times. Or, perhaps, is it designed to somehow lure the Democrats into countering with a gas tax hike, which they can then be blamed for?

Leader Brady is generally a sincere guy and he definitely wants to accomplish big things in his new job, so take that for what you will.

Gov. Rauner has in the past demanded reductions to the prevailing wage as part of any capital plan deal. If this plan has any significant poison pills, the Democrats will likely just take their chances with the 2018 election. Word is that Brady will meet with labor representatives today.

And even if it is “labor friendly,” the Democrats will undoubtedly want some sort of ironclad assurances that money will actually be spent in their own districts, including and (probably) especially in Chicago. There’s also a very real concern that Rauner’s administration, badly hobbled by firings and resignations, will bungle the administration of a capital plan.

The Amazon “HQ2” search with its promise of up to 50,000 high-paying jobs also has to be considered here.

Our state’s bickering political families have to put on their best possible face when the prospective client comes over for dinner. Any public rekindling of this horribly partisan feud could cost the state big.

And, hey, capital money may be needed to entice the company into building its second headquarters in or near the city.

I’m not holding my breath at all, but it would be nice if they can put this together. We need the jobs.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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